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Thread: used to vs would

  1. #1
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    used to vs would

    Ciao!
    Rilancio un dubbio che ho avanzato in un precedente thread, ma che non è stato considerato!
    Nonostante abbia cercato di documentarmi sulle grammatiche non mi è ancora ben chiara la differenza tra used to e would per esprimere l'idea di un'azione che si soleva svolgere nel passato.
    Nella frase in oggetto:
    "When he was young he used to run a lot"
    used to può essere espresso con "he would run " indifferentemente o c'è qualche differenza?

    Grazie!

    Mod Note: Il thread precedente sta qui, e la frase originale è:
    Qualche anno fa correva nelle maratone e giocava a tennis.
    Last edited by brian; 10th January 2008 at 8:20 PM. Reason: mod note

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    Re: Qualche anno fa

    Quote Originally Posted by paolar View Post
    Che differenza c'è tra would run e used to run?
    Would run è il condizionale di correre..
    Used to run invece è un particola tipo di tempo passato, cioè quando si è soliti fare qualcosa per tanto tempo e poi non farla più ..ad esempio:

    I used to run marathon every day when I was young
    (Ero solito correre la maratona ogni anno quando ero giovane....ora no perchè sono vecchio)

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Puoi usare "would" per descrivere un'azione che ricorreva nel passato, come "used to", direi solo che "would" è più formale!
    ARIDANGA ROMBA COJOTA

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    Re: Qualche anno fa

    Quote Originally Posted by paolar View Post
    Che differenza c'è tra would run e used to run?
    In questo caso, si può usare would run o used to run e significa lo stesso.

    Es. I would run marathons every year when I was a child.
    I used to run marathons every year when I was a child.

    Il problema è che non so come spiegare per chè...

    Mi dispiace!!
    Last edited by silverdaizy; 10th January 2008 at 6:40 PM. Reason: clarification

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Grazie Underhouse, era questo il dettaglio che mi mancava!

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Quote Originally Posted by paolar View Post
    Grazie Underhouse, era questo il dettaglio che mi mancava!
    Ciao paolar,

    la mia è una sensazione a dire il vero, vediamo se i madrelingua confermano!
    ARIDANGA ROMBA COJOTA

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    Re: Qualche anno fa

    Quote Originally Posted by fluoxetyn View Post
    Would run è il condizionale di correre..
    Anche would, come used to, si può usare per descrivere azioni abituali nel passato.

    C'è una buona spiegazione qui :

    We can use both used to and would to talk about repeated events and actions in the past: My grandfather used to/would walk five kilometres each morning.
    If you want to talk about repeated states in the past, you must use used to: He used to be a baker (NOT He would be …)

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    Re: Qualche anno fa

    Qui un altro approfondimento su used to e would da parte della nostra forera Leo57.
    Come ha già detto silverdaizy si equivalgono in casi simili

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Ho notato anche che nelle narrazioni spesso si preferisce usare would, forse perché usare used to più volte di seguito non è molto elegante. Non so se i madrelingua potranno confermarlo.
    Ad esempio, in un thread precedente Einstein ha scritto (riferendosi alla traduzione di un brano tratto da un romanzo):


    Quote Originally Posted by Einstein
    He would spend his day going/wandering up and down the river and, when night/evening came, he would go to Marina's.

    ...here I don't think the "used to" form is appropriate.

    Last edited by giovannino; 10th January 2008 at 8:41 PM. Reason: Removed reference to other thread after threads were merged

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Quote Originally Posted by giovannino View Post
    Nell'altro thread ho citato questa spiegazione della differenza tra would e used to.

    Ho notato anche che nelle narrazioni spesso si preferisce usare would, forse perché usare used to più volte di seguito non è molto elegante. Non so se i madrelingua potranno confermarlo.
    Ad esempio, in un thread precedente Einstein ha scritto (riferendosi alla traduzione di un brano tratto da un romanzo):
    Ciao giovannino,

    adesso non so cosa intendesse Einstein per "appropriate", però non penso che usare "used to", in quell'esempio, sarebbe scorretto grammaticalmente!
    A me sembra solo una questione di forma...
    Last edited by underhouse; 10th January 2008 at 7:38 PM. Reason: appropriate
    ARIDANGA ROMBA COJOTA

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Quote Originally Posted by underhouse View Post
    A me sembra solo una questione di forma...
    Ciao under

    Sì, ho l'impressione che sia una preferenza stilistica ma ne volevo la conferma dai madrelingua. Nei romanzi in genere trovo più would di seguito, piuttosto che una serie di used to.

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    Re: When he was young he used to run a lot

    Nei romanzi in genere trovo più would di seguito, piuttosto che una serie di used to.
    Anche nelle canzoni

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    Re: Qualche anno fa

    Quote Originally Posted by giovannino View Post
    Anche would, come used to, si può usare per descrivere azioni abituali nel passato.

    C'è una buona spiegazione qui :

    Non ero assolutamente a conoscenza del fatto che would si potesse usare anche col significato di used to.......

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    Re: he used to / would run a lot

    Per me, madrelingua, tutte due vanno bene e nessuno delle due e' piu' formale. Li userei intercambiabilmente.

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    Re: he used to / would run a lot

    Yes, I agree they're interchangeable in the sentence in the thread title. However I think it would be interesting to discuss the cases where they are not, since grammar books only mention that would cannot be used for past states (I used to be a teacher vs I would be a teacher, I used to like you etc).

    Maybe another difference is that used to so clearly refers to a past habit that no surrounding context is needed, whereas would requires a context where it is clear that past habits are being discussed. You can say I used to smoke on its own but I would smoke would only make sense in a sentence like whenever I had an exam the next day I would stay up all night and smoke non-stop.
    Only used to can be used to say that you've given up a habit.

    And I still think would is more common in narratives, as in this quote from Google:

    When I was a child, I would lie in bed at night, trying to stay awake until Dad got home from Cafe Louis...If I could stay awake until Dad came home, I would tiptoe down the stairs so as not to wake Mom.

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    Re: he used to / would run a lot

    As giovannino indicates, the principal and only real difference between "would" and "used to" is that the latter provides context.

    1) I would run every day.

    This could indicate a continuing past action no longer taking place, but only if it was clear that the speaker is referring to the past:

    When, I was young, I would run every day.

    It could equally indicate the present/future conditional.

    If I had the time, I would run every day.


    With "would", context must be provided, either explicitly or implied by the preceding text.

    2) However, "used to" is not ambiguous. It can only indicate a habitual past action.

    I used to run every day.


    Context is required only to specify the time period, last week, last year, or when I was a boy.

    Otherwise, I would consider them interchangeable, including formality.

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    Re: he used to / would run a lot

    Hello

    Well for what it's worth I think a key difference could be the comparison of time, namely 'used to' implies a comparison from today to the past ie 'I used to run a marathon every year' but these days I don't.
    However 'when i was young I'd/I would...' could exist as a distinct narrative of that time period without a comparison to now.
    My first visit to this forum so I hope I have been clear if nothing else! Do shout if not.

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    Re: he used to / would run a lot

    Attn: Not for the faint of heart! hehehe...

    Well, I've been thinking about this thread for a number of hours now, I've done some field work, conducted a bit of research, talked to people, and even taken a few blood samples, and here are my conclusions (some of which have already been mentioned here):

    I very much agree that "would" is used more in narrative than "used to," but not because of any difference in formality; rather, the difference in usage is based both on syntactic as well as semantic differences between the two. That being said, however, there may in fact be a perceived difference in formality between the two, based primarily on the greater usage of "would" in narrative than of "used to" (thus leading "would" to seem more formal).

    The principal differences between "would" and "used to" are twofold but not completely separable. First of all, they are used in syntactically different situations. "Would" (as mentioned above by giovannino) almost always requires some subordinate clause or a previous sentence acting in that same (subordinate) capacity, or at the very least an adverb, in order to give the verb a more explicit habitual denotation; "used to," on the other hand, does not need any other syntactic padding than the basic parts of a simple sentence (subject, verb, object):

    (1a) I would go to the movies.
    (1b) I used to go to the movies.

    In (1a) there is not enough information in the sentence to give "would" a more explicit habitual denotation; in (1b), however, "used to" does not require more information.

    (2a) I would go to the movies every day.
    (2b) I used to go to the movies every day.

    (3a) When I was a kid, I would go to the movies.
    (3b) When I was a kid, I used to go to the movies.

    (4a) When I was a kid, I would go to the movies every day.
    (4b) When I was a kid, I used to go to the movies every day.

    In (2a) and in (3a) I have added extra information, but it does still not help the sentence with "would"; it still sounds unnatural because there is not enough emphasis on the habit of the past action. (2a) begs the question "When?" and (3a) begs the question "How often?" Again, however, (2b) and (3b) with "used to" are perfectly fine. "When" and "How often" are of no concern because "used to" emphasizes both past tense and habit by itself. But combining (2a) and (3a) to get (4a) finally becomes satisfactory, so that the sentence provides an idea of "when" and "how often."

    Before moving on, some might ask, "Well how/why does 'used to' answer the questions 'when' and 'how often,' but 'would' does not?" My answer: Without having more context (i.e. in a simple sentence like (1b)), "used to" refers either to a state (as mentioned above by giovannino) or to a non-habitual action! "I used to have long hair" refers to my past state of having long hair; "I would have long hair" cannot work. In (1b), "I used to go to the movies" refers to my non-habitual action of going to the movies--i.e., I simply went to the movies every now and then but not on any regular basis; it was an action in which I engaged at times but not habitually--"I would go to the movies" cannot work. However, adding more context, like "When I was a kid" and "every day," forces "used to" to become habitual, just like "would."

    As a last point on syntax, both subordinate clauses and adverbs tend to precede "would" in a sentence, while "used to" tends to precede its sentence's subordinate clauses and adverbs. Compare: "Every morning at 6 am, he would wake up and go for a run" vs. "He used to wake up every morning at 6 am and go for a run." To me, "Every morning at 6 am, he used to..." sounds very awkward. If you'd like more information on this part of the syntactical differences, please PM me.

    Now, syntax aside, the second principal difference is semantic (i.e. the words carry different connotations). As mentioned above by Cappers, there is an issue of time reference here: "used to" always makes some (possibly underlying) comparison to the present tense, while "would" is more general and concentrates on the past. "Used to" implies quite directly that, for whatever reason, the action no longer occurs during the present time or, at the very least, makes the reader/listener wonder, "Does he/she still do that?" "Would," on the other hand, simply states the fact of the habitual action and does not say whether the person still continues it to this day. The best way to see this is in narrative (forgive me for my terrible prose!):

    Jack Hilbert was a very unusual man, even for one who lived in Rogers Park in the '60s. He was always up late at night wandering the streets and smoking Camels and picking up the stench of old Chicago. He used to wake up at 6 am every morning with that same stench and revel in the fact that he could start all over...

    This use of "used to" makes me immediately ask myself, "Did he stop doing this? Why? Will I find out later?" He probably did in fact stop that habitual action; otherwise, the sentence would better be written as "He would wake up at 6 am" or "He always woke up at 6 am," neither of which imply or deny that he continues to do so to this day. Consider (1b) above: this implies that I no longer go to the movies at all. (2b), however, implies that I no longer go to the movies every day (but perhaps I still go occasionally).

    Sometimes the reason for the character no longer doing that action could be as simple as death. Sometimes it could be more important, such as a change in lifestyle or some crucial plot twist. In any case, "used to" implies that the character no longer does that action.

    Some final remarks. I would hypothesize that the predominance of "would" over "used to" in narrative, and similarly of "used to" over "would" in spoken language, is not due to any sense of formality, but rather to a number of factors. In a narrative the author usually describes basic (habitual) actions that the character may or may not continue to do during the present time. Often, it is not important whether the character does not continue to do them, so it is of no use to confusingly use "used to," which makes the reader infer that the action no longer continues (and is therefore of some importance); and if the action does still occur, then the author cannot use "used to." Furthermore, given the right context and syntactical features (as mentioned above), "would" can do the exact same job as "used to," so that by using "used to" once and then using "would" a few times, the author can avoid cumbersome repetition.

    The reason that "used to" is more common than "would" in speech is because most people describe past habitual actions that they no longer do; if it were my intention to explain a past action that I still do, I would simply say "I have been doing ____ since..." Moreover, as seen above, "would" requires more words and contexts, so it's simply shorter and more convenient in conversation to use "used to."

    Thus, I see no real formality issue between "would" and "used to"; the differences to me are purely syntactic and semantic. If anyone does feel there is a difference in formality, I would say that it's precisely because "would" is used less in speech and more in writing/narrative.

    Okay. I'm tired...


    brian


    P.S. Thank you to elroy for an engaging discussion on this topic before I wrote down these thoughts!
    Last edited by brian; 11th January 2008 at 7:17 PM. Reason: typos
    "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

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    Re: used to / would

    Quote Originally Posted by brian8733
    Well, I've been thinking about this thread for a number of hours now...

    Okay. I'm tired...
    Wow! Thank you for taking the time, Brian! No wonder you were tired at the end. Yours must be the most comprehensive, in-depth analysis of used to vs would ever written. I think WR should start giving out awards for posts like yours.

    Just one more query...

    In (1b), "I used to go to the movies" refers to my non-habitual action of going to the movies--i.e., I simply went to the movies every now and then but not on any regular basis; it was an action in which I engaged it at times but not habitually
    Wouldn't you agree that it's not so much that the action of going to the movies was necessarily non-habitual in "I used to go to the movies" but rather that the issue of whether it was habitual or not is irrelevant, since the focus is on my not going to the movies anymore? Maybe I used to go to the movies all the time but then I developed claustrophobia and I'm listing all the things my condition prevents me from doing.

    Your explanation of why used to is more common in speech and would in writing/narrative makes perfect sense. Maybe one could say that the use of would is mostly confined to contexts where the time frame of a habitual action is circumscribed and clearly specified.

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    Re: used to / would

    Quote Originally Posted by giovannino View Post
    Wouldn't you agree that it's not so much that the action of going to the movies was necessarily non-habitual in "I used to go to the movies" but rather that the issue of whether it was habitual or not is irrelevant, since the focus is on my not going to the movies anymore? Maybe I used to go to the movies all the time but then I developed claustrophobia and I'm listing all the things my condition prevents me from doing.
    Yes, you're absolutely correct! I had thought about that before writing "non-habitual," but the reason I said "non-habitual" was to highlight the fact that in that case "used to" does not have describe a habitual action--but of course it still can. And of course, the action does have to be repeatable in some capacity--i.e., I can go to the movies more than once--but this should not be confused with habit. I suppose the better wording might be not-necessarily-habitual-but-still-repeatable action.

    Quote Originally Posted by giovannino
    Your explanation of why used to is more common in speech and would in writing/narrative makes perfect sense. Maybe one could say that the use of would is mostly confined to contexts where the time frame of a habitual action is circumscribed and clearly specified.
    Exactly.
    "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

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